Meet the healthcare robots who visit the seniors

Mr Ow Soo Tian, 71, speaking to Alexandra Hospital pharmacist Joshua Low in a teleconferencing session enabled by the hospital's smart robot Temi, in Mr Ow's one-room flat in Mei Ling Street on Tuesday. He is assisted by Alexandra Hospital volunteer
Mr Ow Soo Tian, 71, speaking to Alexandra Hospital pharmacist Joshua Low in a teleconferencing session enabled by the hospital's smart robot Temi, in Mr Ow's one-room flat in Mei Ling Street on Tuesday. He is assisted by Alexandra Hospital volunteer Chloe Guo. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Speaking to a hospital pharmacist on Tuesday, retired container driver Ow Soo Tian recited the five types of medicine he takes, when he takes them, and any side effects.

Such consultations, part of Alexandra Hospital's (AH) routine reviews with patients to ensure that they know their medication, are usually done in person.

But this time, 71-year-old Mr Ow, who needs a walking stick to get around, spoke to pharmacist Joshua Low via teleconferencing from the comfort of his home.

The virtual connection was made possible by the hospital's new robot Temi, saving him a trip to AH.

The hospital is trialling the use of smart robots like Temi to visit patients in Queenstown who, like Mr Ow, are housebound, isolated, have multiple conditions and have limited access to technology.

For Mr Ow, who suffered a stroke and has been living in a rental flat in Mei Ling since his discharge from AH slightly less than a year ago, Temi will reduce the number of hospital trips.

Temi and her Ghim Moh counterpart Ohmni, sponsored by private and corporate donors, are part of AH's trial that began on Tuesday.

Dr Jason Phua, chief executive of AH, said: "Right now, it's just not possible for healthcare workers to go to so many different homes. For healthcare workers to see all these patients, we would need the patients to come down to the hospital. But why have them make the inconvenient trip of coming down to the hospital?"

The robots would be "a game changer" if the scheme is scaled properly, making house visits more efficient, he added.

AH said that the robots could be used for consultations such as in pharmacy and nutrition, which need not be done in person.

Temi is equipped with a computer screen and camera, and has Wi-Fi connectivity via a dongle brought by human volunteers who accompany her on house visits. She can also play recorded videos such as physiotherapy exercises customised to each patient, AH said.

Currently, Temi is based in the newly opened Geriatric Services Hub at Lions Befrienders Mei Ling Senior Activity Centre, which provides medical services to seniors in the neighbourhood who are above the age of 65, have no regular doctor and are prone to falling.

Dr Phua said: "We hope to have prompt identification of frail elderly in the community, offer timely education and treatment, and make geriatric service accessible and affordable to Queenstown residents, as well as reduce emergency department visits."

Temi is also able to interact with patients, responding to user commands such as playing songs. AH hopes this will interest the seniors and raise their spirits.

The robot played a Christmas song to an amused Mr Ow, who declared her "quite fun".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2020, with the headline 'Meet the healthcare robots who visit the seniors'. Subscribe